We also visited a couple of Highland breweries, along with several well-known hostelries. It was in one of the latter, ‘The Highlander’ in Craigellachie (where, incidentally, I found an excellent pint of MacMullen’s AK!) that I came across David Priest.

During our lunchtime conversation it transpired that he had been the last Head Brewer at Tebbutt & Bailey’s Panton Brewery in Cambridge. I managed to persuade David to recount some of his experiences in the industry, and what follows is a transcript of David’s recollections.

“I WENT TO CAMBRIDGE”

“Not quite as it sounds. I mean the brewery not the University, although I often thought it would have been nice to do both! Let me try and recall my memories of 1958.

Let me, first of all, start at the very beginning, as a small boy at Burton-on-Trent Grammar School, where I spent a few uneventful years. The brewing indoctrination started in Burton (where else could one start!). One of my neighbours was the Fermentation Room foreman for Worthington and another was ‘something‘ in the Cooperage. Besides, one couldn’t ignore breweries in Burton, for, in those days, they were everywhere! Casks stacked high in Worthington’s yard; level crossings in the High Street, with little red engines pulling wagon after wagon of beer in cask and other artefacts for manufacture. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was hooked!

When it came to career decisions there was only one for me, and off I went to the Brewing School at Birmingham University. I left there in 1956 and set off to find my first job. Having had a friend in Bury St. Edmunds, that genteel town seemed a good place to start, so I applied to Greene King and was accepted as a Junior Brewer.

Greene King had a great reputation for training young Brewers, and I guess they still do. However, youngsters were expected to stay no longer than about three years, and then move on. On my first day I was told that I would now be in charge of brewing the bottled beer! How about that for instant experience? This I did, leaning heavily on the foremen during those first few weeks, until I found my feet. Part of the experience build up was to go to ‘outpost’ breweries to take over when resident brewers needed a holiday, and this I did initially at Rayments Brewery in Furneaux Pelham. It was not until 1958 that I was sent to run Bailey & Tebutt in Cambridge and that is when the magic really started. My first brewery, all to myself!

In those days Cambridge itself was such an exciting place. The Colleges in all their architectural glory; the Backs and students in flying gowns on their flying bicycles. I had ‘digs’ at No 22, De Freville Avenue, just across the river, with a foot-bridge leading on to Midsummer Common. It was here that I had my very first Company transport. You guessed it - a bicycle. But this was not any old bicycle! Some may remember the ‘model’ well - big wheel at the back, small at the front, with a metal rack in front for the ‘Butcher Boy’s’ basket. Was I proud of my steed! The brewery was the other side of town in Panton Street, so the transport was essential. I used to set off in the early dawn to start the mash, often peddling through a thick mist emanating from the river. The journey was over Midsummer Common, round Parkers Piece, and across Hills Road to the brewery.

The Panton Brewery was quite small in all aspects and at this stage in its long life, very run down. There was a tiny mash tun, a small copper and just a few open fermentation vessels (I cannot remember the exact capacities of vessels - remember it was over 50years ago!). The FVs each had a small chute at the side for skimming off the yeast, which was eventually pressed for re-use or disposal. It was all very small and compact, but all mine! The largest part of the operation seemed to be the Brewing Office which was a big open room looking out over the Yard, the offices and the Brewery Tap on the corner. I had all the usual ‘tools of the trade’, such as hydrometers, microscope, etc. and for some reason a huge model of a three-masted sailing ship, in full rig and set in a glass case! I often wondered what happened to it when the brewery closed. I do remember that the Cambridge cox came in every day to shovel the spent grains out. This chore went quite unpaid, and was used as a means of keeping his weight down. Obviously, we were very pleased with the help!

We brewed the usual range of beers that you would expect from such a brewery, mainly a variety of cask beers (XX at 1032 O.G. and a Bitter at 1038), which had a good following in the Trade. There was a Bottling facility which was just about functional, but we did manage to produce a great bottled Stingo at 1060 O.G. and a Golden Ale at 1031.5 O.G., but bottled beers were mainly supplied from Bury, except for one other very important one, that is. We brewed Audit Ale for Trinity College at 1085 O.G., and what a beer that was! Hand filled into screw pints, and I can remember picking the stoppers out of their sterilizing fluid to make closure. But that is not all, for over the neck of the bottle was a white lead foil cap and the bottle label was also white, depicting the coat of arms of the College. They served it at High Table on special dining evenings, for students, Fellows and Dons. I did understand that this was something of a heritage and that the brewery had supplied the college for many years. Originally, back in the 14th century, Trinity brewed their own beer, including their own production of Audit Ale. In those days College Ales came with some ceremony, reflecting the grandeur of a particular College and its status within the ‘establishment’.

For those interested in the actual brewing: a few details:-

It was all so simple in those days!

I remember that the Tied House portfolio was quite small at about 40 to 45 units, but the Free Trade was good and we supplied most of the colleges with their various requirements. I got to know all the colleges quite well, or rather the bars and cellars of the colleges! I recall having to tour round checking the cellars and often repairing the beer engines, for which activity I had a large collection of spares.

Now, those who remember Cambridge in the 1950s will remember the car sales in the Hills Road. There were really old cars from the 1920’s and 30’s and it was here that I bought my first car. It was a 1934 Standard Tickford Foursome. In other words, an open topped, coach built car. At this stage you might wonder what this has to do with breweries. Bear with me! ‘Coach Built’ meant that it had a wooden frame around which the body was formed with wrapped round aluminum. It was truly a great car, and if only I had kept it….! However, it had a habit of leaving little piles of sawdust when parked, and one day the front right windscreen pillar gently collapsed as the resident woodworm did its job! I should have told you that the brewery still had a Cooper who had not, over the last few years, had much of a chance to demonstrate his skills, but who now came into his own! In next to no time I had a beautifully carved new pillar in mature oak, grafted onto the nearest good timber, and a car as good as new!

The Brewery closed in 1958 and I returned to The Westgate Brewery, Bury St. Edmunds. I don’t remember the actual moment of closure; it just seemed to drift to a stop. There was little problem finding new jobs for staff and workers. I think most found alternative employment quite quickly and I believe some transferred to Bury. ‘My very own brewery’ had not been mine for long, but I felt that, in some small way, I had been part of its history.

My thanks must go to the staff of Greene King for some ‘memory jogging’ and to my friend, Ron Barclay, who preceded me as brewer at the Cambridge Brewery”.

David Priest now resides in Edinburgh – not a million miles from Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby. For the record, it was in 1897 that Messrs. H.B.Bailey (later to be Mayor of Cambridge) and H.H.Tebbutt acquired the Panton Brewery from one Colonel Beales. At the time, Tebbutt was running the Granta Brewery of Robinson & Tebbutt in Newnham, and this business was transferred to Panton Street. Popularly known as ‘B&T’, the brewery prospered by acquiring a number of smaller concerns, thereby adding public houses to their tied estate. National acclamation came quite quickly, for, in 1907, one of their beers won a major prize at the annual Brewers’ Exhibition. Their price list from the following year makes interesting reading:

Bailey & Tebbutt became a Limited Company in 1918, and the Cambridge brewery, with its output seemingly secured by generations of students and dons, was more or less immune to the post-World War I depressions experienced by many brewers. In 1925, the brewery and its 48 houses, plus an extensive free trade (representing 58% of beer volume), were offered to Greene King at Bury St. Edmunds. This was an attractive proposition for the Bury firm, because, with a turnover of around one-third of that of the Westgate Brewery, it offered them a substantial foothold in Cambridge and a large free trade. The deal was completed in February 1925, with Greene King borrowing £149,000 of the £152,000 asking price, on unsecured loans of 4.5-5% from Lloyds and Barclays Banks.

Like many small regional breweries at this time, B&T did things very much their own way, and one of the foibles at the Panton Brewery was for the brewer to bring the mash temperature up to within a few degrees of boiling point! This was totally against generally accepted practice (64-66degC. being the norm for an infusion mash), and there were some lively discussions between the Head Brewer in Cambridge (another Tebbutt), and the directorate at Bury. Tebbutt refused to concede to Bury protocol, and was soon vindicated when B&T won the Gold Medal, the Silver Challenge Cup, and Silver and Bronze Medals at the 1929 Brewers’ Society Exhibition for their superb bitters and draught stout! Further prizes were won at the 1931 Exhibition. The accountants at Bury were happy too, for, over the period 1926-1929, the Panton site returned on average £21,850 for the GK coffers.

Greene King made some improvements to the B&T infrastructure in 1928, but the fact that brewing and bottling were carried out on three different sites – each having to be kept in working order – meant that necessary developments to the Westgate site were delayed. It is pretty clear that the purchase of the Panton Brewery caused the Bury brewer to become somewhat financially straitened. During the 1930s, there was intense competition between the Panton Brewery and Tollemache after the latter had acquired the Star Brewery in the city. Tollemache brewed an excellent bottled beer, which became widely popular, and this enabled them to corner a large proportion of the bottled beer trade – a sector that became increasingly popular during the decade.

During the interwar years, the approximate sizes of Greene King’s four working breweries can be judged by the number of employees at each, which were:

Some barrelage figures from this era indicate the fluctuation in trade from both Cambridge and Bury breweries.
Year
(ending 31st May)
Annual Barrellage
CambridgeBury St. Edmunds
1925 3,885 53,429
1926 12,625 55,987
1927 13,271 55,719
1932 9,029 51,356
As David indicates above, the Panton Brewery wound to a close in 1958, and, fortunately for Greene King, customers at their Cambridge houses soon took to the beer brewed at Bury. Many of Bailey and Tebbutt’s public houses lasted well into the CAMRA era, and many drinkers will be familiar with such watering holes as: the Green Dragon, Chesterton; Granta; Barley Mow, Histon; Free Press; Seven Stars; Bird in Hand, and Champion of the Thames.